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Coffee Break No. 25 – Writing, Music and Photography

For the silver anniversary of my Coffee Break series I thought I would share some links that I particularly enjoyed this week. Check ’em out. If they don’t move you, check your pulse, you may be paranormal.

Vivian Maier

At BronxBanterBlog.com is a fantastic post about photography. It’s a baseball blog at heart, but so much more. Host Alex Belth has a keen eye for stuff far outside the lines of the old ball diamond. Like this:

Every once in a while something comes along that is so unbearably tremendous that I can’t help but feel rejuvenated, filled with enthusiasm and faith in the world. Like this story about the guy who found a treasure and is now sharing it with the world.

Bat Segundo interviews Paolo Bacigalupi – I very much enjoyed this podcast. Bacigalupi’s candid answers provided a nice glimpse into his writing process. Here’s a taste:

It’s almost all improvisation, actually. Very little is planned out. There’s a detail that I have in my bank. And I use it. And you’re always acquiring material, whether that’s from visiting your in-laws or whether that’s from reading a novel.

Over at Largehearted Boy, Jeff VanderMeer talks about a music play list that would best accompany his story collection, The Third Bear – There are also links to some free PDF downloads for a story from the book, “The Quickening”,  and reviews of the book.

It’s somewhere between elegy/dirge and celebration, chronicling the strange moments that occur more often than we want to believe. At base, it’s a collection that’s about the search for something beyond what we know…

And finally, over at More Red Ink, editor Marty Halpern discusses many things, but the thing that caught my eye was this post on how flexible e-paper reminded Marty of Paul di Filippo. I include this because I just discovered di Filippo through Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s Steampunk anthology and just downloaded a StarShipSofa podcast because he was in it.

From Marty’s blog (It’s Marty quoting Harlan Ellison talking about di Filippo):

My wife has instructions that the instant I die, she has to burn all the unfinished stories. And there may be a hundred unfinished stories in this house, maybe more than that. There’s three-quarters of a novel. No, these things are not to be finished by other writers, no matter how good they are. It could be Paul Di Filippo, who is just about the best writer in America, as far as I’m concerned.

See, now you’re smarter.

The Adventures of Ibn Battuta

by Jonathan 2 Comments

I’m very excited about this early Christmas gift from my wife:

Known as the greatest traveler of premodern times, Abu Abdallah ibn Battuta was born in Morocco in 1304 and educated in Islamic law. At the age of twenty-one, he left home to make the holy pilgrimage to Mecca. This was only the first of a series of extraordinary journeys that spanned nearly three decades and took him not only eastward to India and China but also north to the Volga River valley and south to Tanzania.

What’s not to like?

In addition, I received The Arabian Nights (Norton Critical Edition), Jeff and Ann VanderMeer’s Steampunk anthology, The Iron Council by China Mieville, All My Friends Are Going to be Strangers by Larry McMurtry, The Hero Has a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell and Cruising Paradise: Tales by Sam Shepard.

Before I get to reading, let me leave you with this trailer for Journey to Mecca:

Favorite Reads of 2010

by Jonathan 3 Comments

This list I am about to roll out is not about books published in 2010, but books that I read in 2010 and enjoyed. Unfortunately I am neither a book reviewer who receives the latest SF and Fantasy titles (on second thought, I don’t think I could manage to review with the intensity and frequency those guys do. They have my utmost respect), nor am I loaded down with disposable income. I receive most of my books as gifts for birthdays, Father’s Day, Christmas, Flag Day, etc.

In most cases, I’ve provided a link to either the publisher, a bookseller, or the author’s page. As a bonus, if you click on the cover of each book, it’ll take you into a magic world of chocolate waterfalls and phantasmagorical nightmares, or, rather,  a review of the book.

Perdido Street Station – China Mieville

This was my intro to Mr. Mieville and I have to say that even though I read it almost 12 months ago, the images still stick with me. Mieville drives home some points overly much, but, if anything, adds a bit of charm to the whole thing. This is fantasy clad in weird science fictional robes. I may just have to read it again soon.

The Passage – Justin Cronin

This honker of a book justified the hype that came with  it. Dude raked in over 4 million clams before he had even finished the first book (three book deal and movie rights purchased by Ridley Scott). I literally couldn’t put it down. Have you ever showered with 750 pages of book in your hand? I didn’t think so. Read this and you’ll know what I mean.

Titus Groan – Mervyn Peake

This is a late entry. I just finished it a few days ago and am into the next title, Gormenghast. In truth, it was a slow burn, but after Peake sets the table, it’s a smorgasbord of satisfying strangeness. The climax in particular is haunting. What I first thought was dense prose became easy reading. It reminded me of Dickens only more interesting.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo – Stieg Larsson

This one also starts a little slow, but holy moly, the book almost caught on fire I was turning the pages so fast. I managed to finish it in record time and then wrapped in a curtain and rolled it around on the floor.  There are things that might turn off some readers, but any story that demands you finish gets my respect.

The Windup Girl – Paolo Bacigalupi

I wrote a post on this not long after I finished it. If nothing else, Bacigalupi’s conception of our world in a post-oil era is stunning. But The Windup Girl is so much more than that. I look forward to reading it again.

The Anubis Gates – Tim Powers

After reading The Difference Engine, I was leery of jumping into this one. Turns out that fear was unnecessary. Powers weaves a potent tale of time travel that starts you out in the dark and gradually draws back the shades. By the end, I was nodding my head and smiling. Very satisfying.

Finch – Jeff VanderMeer

Every time I look at the cover of Finch, I get a little giddy. The whole presentation of the story is superb, from the staccato pulp noir prose to the world-building to the tone. If you like your fiction off-center and a lot weird, this is one for you. If you’re allergic to fungus, get an allergy shot first.


The City and the City – China Mieville

China Mieville almost made this list thrice, but in the end, I did not include The Scar although I enjoyed it very much. I did include The City and The City because of how utterly different it is from Perdido Street Station. Where Perdido Street Station is steeped in Lovecraftian weirdness, The City is much more subtle. It is a police procedural, but like Finch, there is a fantastic element to it that revolves around two cities whose edges overlap in some strange extradimensional way.

The Book of the New Sun – Gene Wolfe

I include the whole series here because you have to read all four books or you’ll be left wondering, “WTF did I just read?” if you don’t (you might still think that after reading all four books, but at least there’s closure). Gene Wolfe has a way with words. Like Mervyn Peake, once you get into the swing of things, these books read at a nice pace. The way Wolfe weaves everything together is perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the series. Get your dying earth on with Severian (the protag). Can’t remember which author said it, but after they read this series they thought, “I didn’t know you could write fantasy like that.”

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

Stark, moving, horrific at times, haunting at others. Frankly, any of the Cormac McCarthy books I read this year could be on this list (All the Pretty Horses, No Country for Old Men and this one). The man knows how to turn a phrase for maximum effect and he has a knack for cutting to the heart of so many of the things we think about every day.  If you have children, it’s even better.

There you have it. If you haven’t some of these, check ’em out. Hope your 2011 is filled with words, whether you are reading or writing.

Everything Falls Apart

I stumbled across Nathan Kensinger’s photo stream on Flickr while looking for industrial waterfront landscapes. Dig:

Greenpoint Hospital

If you visit his blog (click on the picture) he posts two photo essays a month chronicling, as his website says, the abandoned & industrial edges of New York City. His work takes you right there.

To get more in sync with decay and entropy and all that goes along with it, you could do worse than read the George RR Martin and Gardner Dozois anthology, Songs of the Dying Earth.

Finally, I opened my Google Reader today to find this somewhat haunting video of this  Six Flags Amusement Park posted over at Jerz’s Literacy Weblog. It’s been abandoned since Katrina in ’05.

All right, who’s ready for turkey?